WordFest Inventor of the Week: George Dunhill

George Dunhill is reputed to have invented the Pontefract Cake by adding sugar to liquorice.

The beginnings

By 1720, or perhaps slightly earlier than this, the Dunhill family rented land in Pontefract Castle specifically for the purpose of growing liquorice. In order to grow liquorice properly, deep trenches are needed of up to 6 feet and the castle grounds were ideal for this.

Pontefract Cakes

Dunhills Original Pontefract Cakes

George Dunhill worked as an apothecary chemist for the family firm in Pontefract. He is reputed to have added sugar to liquorice, which was then a dissolvable, medicinal pastel, in order to create a non-medicinal lozenge which was chewable, thus inventing the sweet that we now know as the Pontefract Cake.

As the years passed, many sweet companies were formed in and around the town and by the beginning of the 1900s there were 19 factories in the Pontefract area

Over 25,000 Pontefract cakes were made daily, each one being stamped by hand with a design that included Pontefract Castle.


George Dunhill carried on his liquorice business until he died in 1824. His son Francis then took over the business and when he, in turn, died, his widow Ann Dunhill ran the company.

In 1872 Dunhills played a minor role in national politics. The Secret Ballot Act had been passed by Parliament in that year and Pontefract was the first place to hold a by-election under this new system. Instead of using the stamp of the borough on the wax seals on the ballot boxes, Dunhills’ Pontefract Cake stamp was used instead.

The firm was taken over by Mr F Carven in 1883, though the Dunhills name was kept. The business became a limited company in 1919 and moved to a former laundry on Front Street, where it gradually expanded, resulting in the modern factory that we know today.

Dunhills (Pontefract) Limited Liquorice Factory, Pontefract

WordFest Inventor of the Week: John Harrison

The inventor of the marine chronometer, used for calculating longitude while at sea.

Portrait of John Harrison (1693-1776), English clockmaker

Early Life

John Harrison was born on March 24th,1693, in the village of Foulby, West Yorkshire before moving to the village of Barrow in Lincolnshire early in his life. Harrison had a keen interest in woodworking and was fascinated with clocks from a young age, completing his first pendulum clock before he was 20.

The Problem

At that time, the main problem facing ship navigation was how to accurately track longitudes, inaccurate readings caused ships to sail off course and, in some cases, result in loss of life. This issue became most apparent to the British Navy after the loss of 4 ships and 2000 men in 1707 from Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet after heavy fog caused a voyage from Gibraltar to Portsmouth to go off course and sail into rocks off the coast of the Scilly Isles.

Sir Cloudesly Shovel in the Association with the Eagle, Rumney and the Firebrand, Lost on the Rocks of Scilly, October 22, 1707

In 1714, in response to this problem, the Longitude Act was passed, and a board was set up to find an answer. They decided to offer £20,000 to anyone who could create a device to accurately measure longitudes.

The Solution

Aiming to win the prize money, Harrison invented his first chronometer in 1735 named H1 (Harrison 1) which took him 5 years to build. This complex brass clock weighing 75 pounds was a technological breakthrough and people came from far and wide to see it. Even after a successful voyage to Lisbon and back however Harrison himself was critical and instead of asking for the prize money asked for a £500 investment so he could go away and improve it.

Photograph of John Harrison‘s H4 clock.

He then set about perfecting his invention and over the next four decades produced another four models. His first was the improved and again, according to Harrison himself, still flawed, H2 shown to the committee in 1741, then came the smaller but still bulky H3 in 1757 and finally two further compact models in his H4 and H5. H4, only slightly bigger than a pocket watch, was a miniature marvel. Finished in 1759 it was complete with a diamond and ruby anti-friction mechanism. H5 was completed in 1770 and, although not as ornate as H4, was just as impressive.

After testing, Harrison’s inventions were found to be highly accurate and fit the board’s criteria to win the prize money but although he received further investments and grants, in 1765 he was only awarded half not the full amount. Frustrated and confident of its success Harrison took his complaint to the top, contacting King George III in 1772 who ordered that Harrison’s device be tested again. After further testing Harrison’s chronometer was found to be accurate and he was awarded the rest of the prize money in 1773. In total over the years he received the sum of £23,065, a figure that would have made him a multimillionaire by today’s standards. He died March 24th 1776 a very rich man.

Harrison’s tomb at St John-at-Hampstead.

Since his death he has been honoured by numerous societies. His original inventions are on display in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Word Fest Scientist of the Week: Edward Green

The Beginnings

Edward Green was born in 1799 in Wakefield and at the age of 14 he was apprenticed as a millwright.

He married in 1821 and established his own business, Green’s, which was sited not far from where the current business is today.

Economiser boiler

Edward Green designed the Economiser Boiler in 1845. It re-used waste heat energy to improve the efficiency of coal boilers. The Economiser Boiler worked by using the boiler exhaust gases, which previously had been wasted, to very effectively pre-heat the boiler feed water. Many industries soon saw how it could save them money and soon it was to be found in many factories and works.

As a result Edward Green soon gained a reputation in all areas of boiler and industrial engineering. His innovative approach led to many improvements of his products and soon his company had grown into a global business.


  • By the 20th century Greens had become a household name. In 1912 the company was honoured with a visit from King George V and the King opened the new factory in Wakefield.
  • In the 1950s the company invented extended surface finned tubes and developed machinery in order to produce them.
  • The Green family continued to be associated with the firm until 1993, with several members of the family working in the business.
  • The firm then went through a number of mergers and acquisitions, but still, to this day, remains in Wakefield.
  • The company is continuing its reputation as being innovative as it adapts to modern demands. There is a growing emphasis on providing solutions for renewable energy and this is particularly so in the Energy from Waste and Biomass sectors.
  • Products manufactured in Wakefield by Greens are exported across the world.

Word Fest Scientist of the Week: Dame Marjorie Williamson

Dame Marjorie Williamson was a lecturer in physics with particular research interests in the unification of the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and electromagnetic theory

Early Life

Wakefield Girls’ High School, Wentworth Street, Wakefield

Elsie Marjorie Williamson was born on 30th July 1913 in Yorkshire. She went to Wakefield Girls’ High School and later graduated from Royal Holloway College with degrees in both mathematics and physics. After graduating she stayed on at the college as demonstrator in physics.

During the Second World War she lectured at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth.

In 1945 she went to Bedford College, London as a physics lecturer with research interests in the unification of the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and electromagnetic theory. It was during her time spent at Bedford College that she first developed an interest in college administration.

From 1955 until 1962 she was the principal of St Mary’s College, Durham.

Later Life

Royal Holloway College

Marjorie Williamson had always retained an interest in Royal Holloway College and was elected to the college council in 1958. She later returned to work at the college as the College Principal, where she found that little had change since the 1930s. She therefore set about a radical process in order to change this and men were admitted into the college in 1965. This also resulted in a major expansion with new buildings and new academic departments.

She was a tall, imposing person, but was friendly to her students. She continued to lecture in relativity so that she could get to know the students. They evidently regarded her with awe, sometimes likening her to the Queen.

She is principally known today for transforming Royal Holloway College and introducing co-education there.

She retired firstly to Warwickshire and then later to Suffolk, where she died on 12th August 2002.

Family History Fridays – Focus on Certificates

An Airedale Family portrait –  A black and white photographic portrait of the McNally family from Airedale. Mother, Father and four children are pictured posed in a studio in their best clothes. From http://www.twixtaireandcalder.org.uk

For any of us certificates are an important part of our identity – be it birth, marriage or death certificates, we come across them at some part in our lives.

For a family historian a certificate can be the key to a minefield of information which could be otherwise lost in the myriad of details out there.

Up to June 1837 all records of births, marriages and deaths were held by individual parishes in their record books. From June 1837 a national Civil Registration Index made it a legal requirement to register births, marriages and deaths and it was at this point that certificates were first produced. The records of the Civil Registration Index are available on most genealogy sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past. It is worth noting that some of the parish marriage records from 1837 onwards on these sites are identical to the certificates. These indexes are beneficial to family historians as they allow them to apply for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates belonging to their relatives. The complete portfolio of the indexes is held by the General Register Office (GRO).

The date at which a certificate was issued may also mean the information you receive varies. However, the general information held on the certificates is as follows;

The wedding of Madie Simpson, 1933

Birth: Child’s name, date of birth, place of birth, mother’s name and maiden name (if the mother had previously been married a certificate may say “Jane Smith nee Doe, formerly Jones”), father’s name (if known or the situation permits) and the father’s occupation.

Marriage: Place of marriage, bride and grooms names and ages (in many cases this will say “full” which depending on the year means the party in question was at the legal minimum age to marry), status i.e. bachelor and/or spinster etc., occupations, residence, father’s names and occupations if known.

Death: Name of deceased, date of death, place of death, residence, occupation, cause of death, the name of the person registering the death and their relationship to the deceased.

There are several ways to apply for copy certificates and each comes with different requirements and costs.

The GRO offers a searchable database of the records (birth and death only) but this is not without fault. It is possible to search for a record you have an index number for from ancestry.co.uk and not find it on the GRO database. It is always worth checking more than one source i.e., directly with the parish or record office of the place you expect the event to have been recorded. The benefit of the GRO database is that for birth records, the mother’s maiden name is shown in the results. This can often aid family historians without needing to purchase a certificate. It also makes it possible to discover births and deaths of individuals during census periods, particularly children whose mortality rates were higher. The death records record the age at death which can often narrow down the results if there is a common name or area involved.

The General Register Office – paper copy from £11

An application for a paper copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate can be made directly to the GRO via their website. You do need to register or hold an account with them. You will need to be able to provide at least the surname, forename(s), quarter, volume, district and page number of the record you require. If you cannot provide all these details the cost rises to £14 per certificate.

The General Register Office – PDF Copy from £7

The GRO also provides a PDF certificate ordering service where they email you a copy of the certificate which you can then print off at home. You require the same details to order the certificate as for the paper copy, but you must remember to change the option to PDF when placing your order. Please note that this service is currently only available for birth and death certificates.

Local Register Office – prices may vary

All births, marriages and deaths are initially registered at a local register office and records are held by these individual register offices as well as centrally at the GRO. It is possible to order copy and/or replacement certificates from most of these offices. Some counties have a searchable online database or volunteer groups have uploaded details to a website – Yorkshire BMD for example, although as these are volunteer run, most are incomplete. The information required will be very similar to that required by the GRO, however their reference i.e. the page number and volume number will be different to that held by the GRO. Please contact the register office in question for exact details.

Armed Forces Births, Marriages and Deaths – paper copy from £11

Find My Past have birth marriage and death records for British nationals serving overseas. These records are an exception to the 1837 Civil Registration ruling. It is possible to search for an individual born pre- 1837 and access details about their parents – take for example Colin Campbell Murdoch born 1817. A certificate received for him reveals his date of birth, place of birth (France), his father’s rank (Captain in the 91st Regiment of Foot) and his mother’s maiden name.

Researching your ancestor who took part in wars during Queen Victoria’s reign

Group of soldiers from the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Pontefract, 1900-1910

We’ve looked at various conflicts over the past few months and what records might be available for you to use if you had an ancestor who fought in them. This month we thought we’d turn our attention to the many conflicts that took part during the nineteenth century.

Victorian Military Society
Home | Victorian Military Society
The Victorian Military Society was founded in 1974 to foster interest in military aspects of the Victorian period, later extended to 1914 so as to include the campaigns of the early part of the twentieth century. The VMS is principally concerned with the forces of the British Empire and its adversaries but does not exclude other armies.
The society is involved in lectures, exhibitions and assistance with research by members of the public into family history.

British Battles
BritishBattles.com analysing and documenting British Battles from the previous centuries
We’ve mentioned this website before but that’s because this is an amazing website. You can find battles by date range and many include paintings, battleplans and detailed accounts of the battles.

Second Anglo-Afghan War
The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880: The British in Afghanistan (garenewing.co.uk)
This website is a developing online resource for anyone interested in knowing more about the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880. It is also the home of the Second Afghan War database project, a collection of names, family histories and stories concerning those who participated in this lesser-known campaign from the days of Queen Victoria’s British Empire.

Indian Mutiny Medal Roll
FIBIS Database – Powered by The Frontis Archive Publishing System
FIBIS stands for Families in British India Society and amongst its many pages can be found lists of those who took part in the Indian Mutiny.

Zulu War
Zulu War | National Army Museum (nam.ac.uk)
Gives a detailed account of the Zulu War. The National Army Museum also holds a number of events, including online talks, so it’s worth exploring their website further.

Soldiers of the Queen
Soldiers of the Queen – A Virtual Museum of Victorian Military Photograps
Photographs of soldiers taken during the Victorian era. Extra information is provided where possible about the photographs, including, in some cases, names of the soldiers in the photographs.

As you would imagine Ancestry has a number of records that will be of interest including UK, Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Regimental Registers of Pensioners, 1713-1882 | Ancestry® (ancestrylibraryedition.co.uk)

British Newspaper Archive
Home | Search the archive | British Newspaper Archive
if you wish to learn how the various wars fought during this time were reported, then have a look at this wonderful website. It’s available free for all our library members, but you will only be able to access it by using a computer in one of our libraries.

The National Archives
As well as providing the usual excellent research guides, including finding records for the Crimean War (Crimean War – an overview – The National Archives) there are also some online exhibitions about the Crimea War (1854) and the military campaign in Egypt in 1882 – The National Archives | Research and learning | British Battles .

The Royal Artillery Museum
Family History – The Royal Artillery Museum
They do not hold service records for people who served in the Royal Artillery as these are held by the MOD and can be accessed at the GOV.UK website here. However, if you know which unit your ancestor was with (Battery, Regiment/Brigade) then they are likely to hold information on the unit’s activities, locations etc.

Family History Friday: The 1921 Census

Castleford Association Football Team, 1921

No doubt, as keen family historians, you’ll already know that the 1921 Census for England and Wales has finally been released and many of you have probably already been busy checking the records and adding to your family tree. However, for those of you who may not yet have used it and don’t know how to access it, we thought we’d spend this month’s Family History Friday giving you a bit more information.

Firstly we thought we’d share an email that we received in October from Find My Past:

Now that life in your library is beginning to return to normal, we wanted to update you about some developments at Findmypast and the British Newspaper Archive. During the lockdowns, if requested, we have provided you and your patrons, with remote access to our service at home, so they could continue to benefit from the subscriptions you have with us.

You may also have heard we will be releasing the 1921 Census of England and Wales on Findmypast in January 2022. This is a major project we have undertaken in partnership with The National Archives and there is a great deal of excitement within the family history community. This multi-year project has been very difficult to bring to completion through the pandemic, but we have succeeded, and we are on time!

The 1921 Census will not be immediately available within any subscription. It will only be available via pay-per-view access for the initial period. This will cover the cost of digitising and transcribing the 18,235,242 images created from the records supplied exclusively to us by The National Archives. It means these precious records are accessible, commitment-free, for everyone.

Your patrons will still be able to purchase 1921 Census returns like any other user via a personal account. They will not be able to do this within your library accounts. This is to ensure that credit card details cannot be shared or compromised. Instead, they will be told how to do so via a personal account, as we do with building a family tree on Findmypast currently.

We look forward to bringing the 1921 census to our valued library subscribers before the end of 2022 and we will ensure that we give you all the information you need about the method and timing of this well in advance.

Find My Past

In other words, you won’t be able, unfortunately, to access the 1921 Census for free through our library computers until later in the year. At the moment we don’t know when that will be.

If you wish to view the census before then there are two ways to go about it.

1. You will need a subscription to Find My Past and will also need to pay additional pay-per-view fees of £2.50 to view a transcript and £3.50 to view an original image. If you have a Pro subscription to Find My Past, then you’ll receive a 10% discount on the pay-per-view fees.

2. There are a very few places where you can access the 1921 Census for free. These are The National Archives at Kew, The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and Manchester Central Library. For further information see Where can I access the 1921 Census? – Portals (nationalarchives.gov.uk)

If you are wanting the 1921 Census for Scotland, that will become available to search later in 2022. The National Records of Scotland website states that “we will release indexed images of the 1921 Scottish Census on www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk and in the ScotlandsPeople Centre in the latter half of 2022. We’ll keep you updated on progress via our digital channels”. See Census Records | National Records of Scotland (nrscotland.gov.uk)

Unfortunately for those of you with Irish ancestors the 1921 Census for Ireland was never taken due to the events surrounding the Irish War of Independence.

Family History Friday: Researching your ancestor in the Boer Wars

Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Sergeant, Wakefield, 1900s

As family historians we so often concentrate on researching our ancestors in the First and Second World Wars. Yet the Boer Wars, fought between the British Empire and two independent Boer states, involved the biggest deployment of British troops since the Crimea. There were in fact 2 separate Boer Wars, but the one which is most generally referred to is the second, which occurred between 1899 and 1902. As usual we’ve suggested some websites that might help with your research.

The National Archives
The South African War, 1899-1902 (or Second Boer War) – an overview – The National Archives
As we so often do, we thought we’d begin by referring you to the research guide produced by The National Archives as it provides an overview of the records held there.

Anglo-Boer War
Anglo Boer War – Home
This free site’s aim is to make available information on the Anglo Boer War 1899 – 1902 and other South African conflicts in the period 1779-1906 and to provide a forum for discussion of the many aspects of these conflicts. Currently 752,000 soldiers’ records are available to view and there are over 75,000 forum posts.

Web: South Africa, Second Boer War British Service Register, 1899-1902 | Ancestry®
UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902 | Ancestry®
As you’d imagine Ancestry has a couple of collections that will be of particular interest. The second one contains the following information on over 54,000 soldiers who either died or were wounded during the Boer War:







Casualty type, date, and place

Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry dinner, Wakefield, 1901

Welcome to Casus Belli (military books and medals) (casus-belli.co.uk)
This website also has the Register of the Anglo-Boer War but is not free to use. As well as giving a useful guide to researching this topic, a full research service is also offered, but again this is not free.

Boer War Roll of Honour
Roll of Honour – Boer War – Available pages (roll-of-honour.com)
Another very useful website, which also provides helpful suggestions to alternative online sources if you can’t find the name that you’re looking for. There’s also links which give details of the Boer War memorials in the UK.

British Concentration Camps
British Concentration Camps of the South African War 1900-1902 (uct.ac.za)
The camps were formed by the British army to house the residents of the two Boer republics of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. They were established towards the end of 1900, after Britain had invaded the Boer republics. The database is an ongoing project and a number of registers have yet to be completed. Because of the complexity of the sources, most of them produced under wartime conditions, and the incomplete nature of the project, the database does contain duplicates and inconsistencies. Although they will be eliminated as far as possible, variants will always remain.

Anglo-Boer War Museum
Anglo Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein | South African History Online (sahistory.org.za)
And for those of you who are particularly interested, the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1899 to 1902. The museum has a unique art collection, dioramas and exhibits but also brings the visitor closer to understanding the background against which the war took place.

Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry letter, Wakefield, 1902

We Will Remember Them

John Henry Baker

War service

My father joined the army in approximately 1917 towards the end of WW1.  He was in the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars.  At that time I had not appeared on the scene!  So information about my Dad is limited.  However, I’m glad to relate from documents in my possession and a little imagination.

Firstly, my Dad in the 7th Hussars Cavalry was as unbelievable as travelling to the moon in 1917, yet I have evidence of this fact by way of two army certificates of education issued by the army council in India.

They read as follows: ‘Private J. H. Baker No. 533435 of the 7th Hussars attained a very fair standard in arithmetic, a very fair standard in composition; is very fairly versed in geography and possesses a very fair knowledge of modern English history.’  He also passed in map reading.

The 2nd certificate reads: ‘Arithmetic, reduction simply practice and proportion, vulgar and decimal fractions, averages, percentages and proportional parts, simply superficial and cubic measure, regimental accounts and simply essay writing.’

No wonder he wanted me to study! Dad was very small in stature, yet he could hold his corner against bigger army bullies he came up against.

At the start of World War one, the 7th Hussars were stationed at Bangalore, then Secunderabad and Dehli. In 1917, the frustrated regiment sailed to Basra to fight the Turks. They moved to Baghdad and saw action in March 1918, when they efficiently routed the enemy. They were also involved in several other brilliant attacks and were the occupying force until May 1919. After the war they had a short tour of India until 1923. Perhaps John Henry Baker was involved in some of these events.

At the outbreak of World War 2, he volunteered to join the Field Intelligence Corps in 3rd Field security, serving in Italy and Cairo despite being over-aged to join. Not much is known about his service except that he was often on prisoner escort duty and that he had a close encounter with a tarantula, which landed on his face, marking him for life. Other than that he returned home scot free.

Family Life

As the First World War ended Dad returned to Stockton – Upon – Tees, Land of the Geordie and his brothers and sisters, but he decided that a vacancy at the Pontefract Co-operative would boost his career prospects, as he was interested in window dressing, winning several top awards for his work.  On the sad side he lost contact with all his siblings and parents.

Between the wars Dad settled down in South Elmsall, Pontefract.  He was a keen sportsman and organised a competition for shopkeepers whose half-day holiday fell on a Wednesday afternoon playing cricket in the summer and football in the winter.

Dad was very popular because of his organisational ability.  He was so popular in South Elmsall that they made him president of the local club and he didn’t even drink. 

Meanwhile, he met mum from Stockton and married her at St. Mary’s Church South Elmsall in 1926 in unusual circumstances.  When the bride, the groom and friends turned up at the wedding, the minister was still in bed and he had to be knocked up to preside at the 8:30am wedding. Yes something different!

Dad worked at the Co-op until the WWII when he volunteered to join the Field Intelligence Corps. This left my mother Elsie May to be the breadwinner. Mum did very well for us. Working in the daytime as the school dinner lady and in the evening as a dinner lady at the local National Coal Board, Frickley Colliery canteen.  Serving meals to miners coming off the evening shift and looking after my sister Doris (aged 13 and myself (Dennis) aged 4 with little or no finances.  Most nights Doris and I went to the canteen, where we enjoyed any leftover puddings! Happy times!

Occasionally mum received letters from Dad, but these were few and far between because of war regulations etc.  Thinking back, I was very proud of my Dad for enlisting to fight for his country but disappointed that he had left my Mum in such a financial predicament. She took it all in her stride – a real angel.

 I was watching a local cricket benefit match at South Kirkby when over the tannoy came the good news that the war was over.  I ran the three miles home in what seemed like three minutes to tell mum the news guess what she already knew.

So we waited and waited for a letter from the war office saying when Dad would be coming home. With typical efficiency they replied…’in the next few weeks time, in the evening.’  Mum, family and friends decided to join together and take turns in awaiting the London train.  Days turned into weeks – no sign.  Then a miracle happened, my auntie Ivy, who lived very close to the station could not do her stint so I stood in for her (a pleasure) and lo and behold Dad turned up at the station.  Amazingly, word got around and all the people in the white city area of South Elmsall came out to cheers his arrival whilst I carried his heavy kit bag with pride!  Dad, (At First) took time to settle down in his new surroundings. Dad was surprised at the size of Doris and I, five years does make a difference don’t you think? Dad was very tired and took some time to settle back into civvy street. Both Doris and I had grown bigger than Dad, which was confusing!

 His pre-war employer was obliged to offer him employment, so he returned to work with the Pontefract Co-operative and was the manager for many years and was well respected and active in the community.

Dad was really pleased that I was interested in cricket and he used to watch me play from behind closed curtains of the house.

One day he asked me if I would like to go to the Yorkshire junior cricket nets in the winter months for coaching.  I snapped off his hands.  This entailed going by train to Leeds, then by tram to Headingley Cricket Ground, come hell or high water.  Dad felt, I am sure, that it was his way of making up for lost time, which I appreciated and made the most of for the rest of my life. 

My Dad’s influence on my life was considerable. An example of this would be that when I was called for National Service, despite the fact that I had just had operations on my feet, been through numerous medicals and declared unfit for the RAF, they placed me in the army, which of course would involve lots of marching. No one understood that decision. The marching caused my feet to bleed and so the medical officer said that he would recommend my discharge. The colonel of the training camp was dumbfounded when I told him that a discharge was out of the question telling him why.  Firstly, my boss in Yorkshire told me the army would reject me.  Secondly, I needed to show my Dad I wasn’t afraid to stay in the army (it took guts) and do my two years service.  The colonel said he had never come across this situation before in all his days in the army.  Anyway the colonel excused me from wearing heavy boots and doing guard duty and various other bits and bats, which allowed my feet to recover. To survive the army, Dad advised me to obey orders at any cost and to respect authority. Dad was pleased with my decision, Mum understood and everyone else could not make their minds up.          

Leslie Thompson

War Service

Leslie Thompson tried to enlist as soon as war broke out, but he was turned down due to being in a reserved occupation. He did join the Home Guard and was stationed at Homefield House.

In 1941 Leslie got his wish and joined the Royal Signals, Wireless Interceptors. His basic training took place at Catterick. The section was based in England between July 1941 and May 1944. On June 4th 1944 they embarked for France and the D-Day landings. In the chronicles of the activities of 108 SW/WI Section from Normandy to VE day it states that “the esprit de section, which has always animated 108, was never better seen than in the historic days in Normandy 1944.”

On June 9th 1944, Leslie landed at Courseulles and went on to La Deliverande Camp alongside a hedge in a cornfield. The service history records that it was very hot and the soldiers bathed on the beaches. They had “fireworks most nights, as the Germans raided shipping and beaches.”

Between 1944 and 1945 the section travelled from France to Holland, then through Belgium and Germany. On September 3rd in Holland they saw “the first German prisoners of war in convoy.” By December 12th 1944 the section were in Breda “in luxurious Dutch barracks.”

The Ardennes offensive began soon after this and on December 25th the service history records:  “Christmas dinner in a marquee. Perishing cold. Ardennes offensive held and repelled.”

February 1945 saw the beginning of the Reichswald battle. The entry for February 18th reads: “Reichswald Forest, Germany. Crossed Maas at Mook and the German frontier at 1200 hours; the first section to do so. Under canvas 400 yards from 25-pounder battery. Camp was right on top of frontier and we genuinely hung out our washing on the Seigfried Line.”

March 4th provided Leslie’s section with an encounter with Mr Churchill and by the 5th “German civilians looked pretty glum [with] white flags of surrender everywhere.” By 1st April, the section had travelled 1000 miles since the D-Day landing.

By the 10th April, Leslie’s and the section’s excitement was tangible as they encountered “numbers of prisoners of war on [the] road.” Finally, on May 2nd  “the fall of Berlin was announced. On May 4th at 2000 hours, BBC news announced surrender of all German forces in the North-West. 2100 hours suitable celebrations were in full swing. 2200 hours all bottles were empty.”

Family Story

Leslie Thompson was born on the 9th January 1920 at 21 Johnson Street off Peterson Road in Wakefield and was then brought up in Clarkson Street, Westgate End. His parents were Martha Ellen and Wright Thompson.

He left Ings Road School at 16 years old and worked as an apprentice joiner at Larrads.

When he was 20, Leslie joined the firm of Drake and Warters. In 1930, the company were shopfitters but in 1939 they soon became involved in war work. They built air raid shelters and army camps and then were contracted to build a decoy port in Hull and a decoy town in Leeds. In 1943 they began building landing craft. Boats built by the company were used at D Day.

All this meant that Leslie was in a reserved occupation and had to wait until 1941 before he could join the armed forces.

After he was demobilised, Leslie worked for the Yorkshire Woollen Bus Company at Dewsbury, then went on to Avondale Joiners in Wakefield.

Leslie married Muriel Hallas on 20th December 1947. They had 60 years of married life, celebrating their Diamond Wedding Anniversary in 2007. Sadly, Leslie died shortly afterwards on 30th December 2007.

We Will Remember Them

Michael Toole

Area : Pontefract
Service number : S/3134

Rank : Sergeant
Regiment / Service : Rifle Brigade

My Grandad SERGEANT MICHAEL TOOLE S/3134  “C”COMPANY, 11th BATALION RIFLE BRIGADE served in WW1 in France at the Somme. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery on 15th. October 1915, some 9 months before the “Battle of the Somme”. He was one of the fortunate ones who came home. After the war in recognition of his DCM. he also received an inscribed gold pocket watch from Lord Masham the owner of Featherstone Colliery.

This is a transcription of a newspaper cutting which was in his medal box.

I don’t know which newspaper or the date when this story was published :


On Saturday morning last Mrs. Toole, of 44, Earl Street, Featherstone, received a telegram from her husband, Michael Toole, stating that he had received the D.C.M. and would arrive home at about 3 o’clock.

On this becoming known, the neighbours in the long street soon became busy making streamers and flying them and quickly the street presented a gay appearance. The gallant Sergeant, arrived at the station by the 3.08pm. train from Wakefield, and on his way home received many congratulations, for heaps of his friends had been anxious to see the medal he so nobly earned, and to congratulate him on his achievement.

It will be remembered from our reports early in October, that Sergeant Toole was attached to the Kings Royal Rifle Brigade, and while on a battle, the officer in charge of his platoon was killed and he was placed in command. One of the officers of the Royal Engineers informed Sergeant Toole that five of his men were in a mine, overpowered by gas, he and Rifleman Holmes of Castleford, at once descended the shaft 60 feet deep, and travelled along the roadway 100 yards long and about 3ft. wide, with 10in. of water in it, and found the men unconscious. Three were rescued alive, but on returning for the other two they had moved a little, and although anxious to get them out, they had to give up the task owing to the effect of the gas on themselves.

Indeed when they reached the surface, Sergeant Toole collapsed, and had to be removed to a hospital at the base suffering from the effects of the gas in the mine, and later to the Royal Hospital, Sheffield. Some time ago he returned home and had a hearty welcome, but after a short rest was sent to a military camp at Seaford, Sussex. On Thursday of last week he left hospital, and on Friday at a special parade, he was presented with the beautiful solid silver medal by Col. Paton Bathane, commanding the 14th Division.

The medal is a striking one, bearing on one side the Kings head and the other the words “Awarded for Distinguished Service”, while around the edge are Toole’s name etc.

Prior to the war, Toole was employed at the Featherstone Colliery. On the 9th Sept.1914 he enlisted in the Rifle Brigade, and left for France on July 20th and as a reward for his faithful service was promoted to the rank of sergeant four months afterwards.

The Featherstone inhabitants are justly proud of Sergeant Toole, and of the very daring deed he performed at the risk of his own life. They wish him good luck and God’s richest blessing in his future career.

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